Top 10 Free Attractions of Nanaimo

Frank Ney in Maffeo-Sutton Park

Frank Ney in Maffeo-Sutton Park

Nanaimo, the Harbour City, offers more than just spectacular waterfront views. The city’s many parks are its jewels but there’s also an active art and music scene with lots to see and do year round. The 10 top free attractions listed below are in geographical order and all are equally worthy of your time. For a fuller account and precise walking or driving directions, consult the various tours included in the Nanaimo 50-Kilometer Holiday.

1) Maffeo-Sutton Park. This lovely park is Nanaimo’s showpiece and there’s something for everyone. In summer you can swim in the Swy-a-Lana Lagoon or sit on a bench and enjoy the view of the snowy peaks of the Coastal Range of British Columbia between Newcastle and Protection islands. In July and August free weekend concerts are presented in the blue-roofed Nanaimo Lions Pavilion and outdoor festivals are happening all the time. Three hours of free parking is available here except during special events.

2) Pedestrian Fishing Pier. It’s fun to sit on this scenic pier just south of Maffeo-Sutton Park and watch people trying to catch crabs as seaplanes take off and land. Keep an eye out for harbour seals.

3) Barton & Leier Gallery. Two of Nanaimo’s top artists exhibit their work in this commercial gallery just up Chapel Street from downtown. It’s something of a mini museum and worth a look even if you aren’t buying.

4) CIBC Nanaimo Arts Centre. In the heart of Nanaimo’s Arts District, this public art gallery on Commercial Street is the best place in town to familiarize yourself with the work of local painters, sculptors, and jewellers. It’s open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm.

5) Bowen Park. Just east of downtown, this wooded park offers lawn bowling, a recreational centre, an outdoor swimming pool (May to September only), and a covered picnic area. Go down the road beside the pool to the Millstone River and a trail with descriptive panels which leads to a large waterfall.

6) Buttertubs Marsh Conservation Area. This attractive park off Jingle Pot Road is an important nesting area for waterfowl and songbirds. The level 1.2-km trail around the marsh is one of the city’s most enjoyable walks with numerous benches and viewing platforms. If you take the trail to the right and go around the lake counter-clockwise you’ll be on the Trans Canada Trail.

7) Westwood Lake Park. Westwood has Nanaimo’s most popular public beach and on a hot summer’s day you could have trouble parking. Washrooms with outdoor showers are provided and there are several pontoons in the lake for swimmers. A broad six-km trail leads right around the 66-hectare lake, a hike of an hour or two. The steepest part is over a rock bluff to the left of the parking area.

8) Linley Valley. The easiest access to the many hiking trails in this large valley is off Hammond Bay Road. A boardwalk up Cottle Creek begins at the end of Linley Road and many lovely hiking trails wind through the valley’s old growth forest.

9) Pipers Lagoon Park. Further up Hammond Bay Road, this is another Nanaimo beauty spot. There’s a long sandy beach where you can swim, with picnic tables, washrooms, and outdoor showers provided. It takes about an hour to hike around the isthmus with one rocky section to cross. The park is famous for its Garry Oak ecosystem.

10) Neck Point Park. Also off Hammond Bay Road, this park has many scenic trails and viewing platforms, which you can access via the paved pedestrians-only road up the hill from the parking area. Watch for deer and bald eagles.

Top 5 Free Attractions of Parksville

Englishman River Falls

Englishman River Falls

An entertaining day out can be spent in and around Parksville, British Columbia, just 35 kilometers northwest of Nanaimo. Commercial tourist attractions with stiff admission fees abound but many of Parksville’s best sights are free. The five places below are described in greater detail in our Oceanside Route Driving Tour which features a printable version and map. Here are some places to go for those who dislike buying tickets:

1) Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park. The two kilometres of scenic sandy beach are the main attraction here and at low tide up to a kilometer of sand can be exposed offshore. Two picnic shelters and a nature house are provided. Park admission and parking are free.

2) Parksville Community Park. Adjacent to downtown Parksville, this family-oriented recreation park offers picnic tables, a children’s playground, baseball, skateboarding, tennis, and other sporting facilities. In mid-summer some of the warmest sea waters in Canada lap the park’s shallow tidal beach and the swimming is excellent on an incoming tide. The parking is always free.

3) Morningstar Farm. This delightful attraction just west of Parksville is a must if you have children along as there are barns sheltering cows, hens, horses, pigs, and sheep, plus a 30-minute self-guided farm trail offering excellent views of Mount Arrowsmith. Morningstar Farm is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. For driving directions, see our Oceanside Route Driving Tour.

4) Old Country Market. The ice cream scooped out at this commercial sales outlet in Coombs southwest of Parksville isn’t free (or cheap) but there’s no charge to take pictures of its famous goats on the roof. The surrounding area has lots more tacky shops and it’s fun to stroll around if you can resist buying anything. The parking is free if congested.

5) Englishman River Falls Provincial Park. A hiking trail loops through old growth Douglas fir forest around a canyon between two waterfalls south of Parksville. The water arrives fresh from Mount Arrowsmith, and in summer you can swim in the river below the lower falls.

Top 5 Free Attractions South of Nanaimo

Hemer Provincial Park

Hemer Provincial Park

For a fun day out point your car or bicycle south of Nanaimo and enjoy the scenic countryside. Admission to the five top attractions listed below is free and there aren’t any parking charges either. See our South Nanaimo Driving Tour for more precise directions than can be included here.

1) Cable Bay Trail. Off Barnes Road toward Cedar-By-The-Sea, this pleasant 30-minute walk through mixed forest leads to the Cable Bay Bridge. A 15-minute extension of the trail runs east along the coast to Joan Point Park and the Dodd Narrows where tidal flows between Vancouver and Mudge islands can reach speeds of 10 knots. From October to April watch for sea lions here. Allow two hours roundtrip for this invigorating hike.

2) Hemer Provincial Park. This wooded park just east of Cedar features a wildlife viewing platform overlooking a marsh a 10-minute walk from the parking lot. The park’s coniferous forest is lovely and there are several hiking trails.

3) Roberts Memorial Provincial Park. In summer this is one of the best places between Cedar and Yellow Point for a swim in the sea. A one-km trail leads through the forest to sandstone ledges along the coast with good views of Valdes and Thetis islands.

4) Hazelwood Herb Farm. This quasi botanical garden just east of Nanaimo Airport opens daily from 11 am to 5 pm April to December. A formal herb garden faces the shop and the nursery contains hundreds of plants, each with a detailed description of possible medicinal benefits.

5) WildPlay Bungy Zone. In 1990 Canada’s first official bridge jump opened just northwest of Nanaimo Airport, 42 meters above the Nanaimo River Gorge. Today the main activities are bungy jumping toward the river, a primal swing off the bridge, a zip line, and a treetop course. Admission to WildPlay Element Parks is free and sightseers are welcome to climb the bridge to watch the action and enjoy the spectacular gorge view even if you don’t intend to participate.

The Adventures of John Tait

John Tait at The Stratosphere

John Tait at The Stratosphere

John Tait is a 41-year-old bungee jumping and skydiving enthusiast. All his adult life John has had a fear and fascination with heights. To confront these fears he engaged the services of WildPlay Adventures, Pacific Airsports, and The Stratosphere. At the tender age of 19 John took his first bungee jump off the bridge at WildPlay in Nanaimo, BC, and it has now become an annual birthday tradition. John was reassured by the negligible bungee jumping accident rate, joking that one has a higher chance of being injured on their way to a bungee jump than during the jump itself. Bungee jumping is a thrill which pits the instinctive against the logical.

As you stand on the platform, your ankles restrained by a cord, loud music echoing across the valley, the sun in your face, and the wind in your hair; you feel quite alone. You take one last glance down as your feet shuffle the last few inches to the edge of the platform. Then there’s a muffled, “Three, two, one…BUNGEE!” With arms outstretched as if to catch a cloud, you feel the blood rushing through your body. The tingling begins in the fingertips, twists through your belly, touches your toes; and you’re off! The wind whips against your face. The cheers of well wishers become white noise as you see the river rushing toward you at a hundred kilometers an hour. The cord around your ankles snaps taut as your body stretches out. Your fingertips touch for the river as you are suddenly rebound weightlessly, halfway back up. In a few minutes the safety team is lowering your energized soul into a waiting raft and you reach a steep metallic staircase back to ground level.

In search of an even greater challenge, Tait decided to give skydiving a try. His mother couldn’t understand why he would want to jump out of a ‘perfectly fine airplane’ from 10,000 feet. “Because I can,” was the only answer John could give. He signed up at Pacific Airsports in Campbell River and took their full day safety and communication class. Since John was new to skydiving, he would be doing a tandem jump with an instructor attached. After safety drills and waiver signing it was time to board a snug four-person plane. The aircraft took 20 minutes to reach 10,000 feet. The sweeping views of emerald forests, finger-like islands, and pristine waters were a plus. When the plane had reached its target altitude, the door opened to a deafening roar and a minute later they were out on the wing. One quick thumbs-up was followed by a quick lean forward and the sound of the plane was just a memory.

During a skydive freefall, the only sound you hear is the wind rushing by at 200 kilometers an hour as your flight suit whips and snaps. You are higher than birds fly and the horizon is endless. The parachute deploys at 5,000 feet about fifteen seconds into the dive and the second half of the decent is a panoramic paradise. Swinging left or veering right, you catch the updrafts; the closest words to describe the experience would be awe inspiring. A few metres from the ground you pull hard on the parachute cords and get a little lift which cushions your landing. You disentangle from the tandem rigging, slip out of your flight suit, and collect your skydiving certificate. Henceforth, the memory of such a wonderful experience will always etch a toothy grin to your face.

This year John Tait decided to include a new challenge in a routine Las Vegas vacation. He was on a ‘search and destroy’ mission to have as much fun as possible within his four-day time frame. Before leaving Nanaimo, John had heard about the Sky Jump, the world’s tallest jump: 108 stories or 885 feet from The Stratosphere tower. And at 10 am on Saturday, June 1, 2013, John took the plunge. After being weighed and fitted with the proper safety rigging, a private elevator shot John to the top of the tower. As pictures were being taken, a final safety check was performed. The John stepped out onto the platform, the desert air tickling his hair and the heat rolling by in waves. A glance down at the cement landing platform and John let go of the guard rails. The drop took only eight seconds but each second seemed to take 10. The endless colours, shapes, and sounds of the Las Vegas strip were too much to take in. Upon landing, John was momentarily breathless. An employee helped him you out of his rigging and asked how his experience was. “Glorious! Only in Vegas!” was John’s response.

Why does John Tait do such things? Simply put, because they terrify him and he refuses to be beaten by silly mind over matter challenges. John challenges everyone reading this to overcome their personal limitations this summer and confront what scares then. Run a little faster, jump a little higher, sing a little louder. salutes John Tait, the humanist with the outstretched arms. You can tweet John at @IsleFreeThinker

My Trip to Iran

Azadi Tower

Azadi Tower, Tehran, Iran

Last week my travel article Iran: time for travelers to return? was published on CNN Travel. There were 502 comments on the article and they’re fun to read. I’m grateful to Jim Louth, founder of Undiscovered Destinations who booked my visit, the Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Washington, DC, who issued my visa, Lufthansa who flew me there via Frankfurt, and Mohammad Mahani who showed me around his country.

I’ve posted 117 of my Iran travel photos on Google Plus. Follow me through Iran’s capital Tehran, along the Silk Road from Qom to Yazd, to lovely Shiraz and ancient Persepolis, and finally to Iran’s most monumental city, Isfahan. Shown here is the Azadi Tower in Tehran, erected in 1973 to commemorate the 2500th anniversary of first Persian empire.

I’ve been to 185 of the 193 United Nation member countries and Iran is one of my favorites. I recommend it to you as a travel destination.

Cape Mudge Lighthouse

Cape Mudge Lighthouse

The Cape Mudge Lighthouse on Quadra Island, British Columbia, Canada, overlooks the southern entrance to Discovery Channel. Erected in 1916, it’s one of the most distinctive features of the island, visible from all cruise ships plying between Vancouver and Alaska.

Matt James Photography

Nanaimo Museum

Matt James is showing off his Photoshop and printing talents with a free exhibit at the Nanaimo Museum. The restoration of old torn and faded images of scenes in and around Nanaimo is a specialty of Matt’s. The choice of quality of antique photographs and real photo postcards has become very slim and expensive as the collecting craze has been promoted by some TV shows. Matt shares his collection openly by restoring and reprinting the images on quality papers and inks. He also does some restoration work on antique frames and refreshes them with new prints. Many of the surfaces are hand embellished with fonts and scrolls that match the period of each image. The exhibitors are hoping that they can see many faces show up for the exhibit which is displayed at the back of the museum’s store. Many of the framed items are from Matt’s private gallery collection. James has decided that the exhibit items along with many others will be liquidated with a portion of the funds going to salmon enhancement projects on Vancouver Island. There will be a silent auction of many valuable works at the museum on Thursday, June 6, 2013, for 10:00 am to 8:00 pm. Some great door crasher items will be offered.